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When Your Child Has Nasal Allergies (Allergic Rhinitis)

Children with nasal allergies (also called allergic rhinitis) are sensitive to one or more substances in the air. Some children have allergies that come and go with the seasons (“hay fever”). Others may have allergies all year long. Nasal allergies can cause your child to lose sleep, feel tired, and have trouble paying attention in school. But you and your child’s doctor can develop a plan to help keep your child’s allergies under control.

What Causes Nasal Allergies?

Nasal allergies are often caused by one or more of the following:

  • Dust mites (tiny insects that live in carpets, bedding, stuffed toys, and other fabric items)

  • Pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds

  • Cockroaches

  • Furry or feathered pets

  • Mold

What Are the Symptoms of Nasal Allergies?

Symptoms of nasal allergies can be mild or severe and include:

  • Sneezing

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Itchy, watery, red, or swollen eyes

  • Cough from mucus dripping down the back of the throat (postnasal drip)

  • Sore throat

  • Dark circles under the eyes

  • Facial pressure or pain

  • Frequent ear or sinus infections

How Are Nasal Allergies Diagnosed?

A health history and physical exam are usually all your child’s doctor needs to diagnose nasal allergies. Skin or blood tests help identify which allergens your child is most sensitive to. This helps you and your child’s healthcare provider make a treatment plan. Your child may be referred to an allergist (doctor who specializes in allergies).

How Are Nasal Allergies Treated?

Limiting your child’s exposure to allergens is a vital part of treatment. Discuss with the healthcare provider the best way to limit your child’s contact with things that trigger his or her allergies. The healthcare provider may also suggest one or more medications, including:

  • Antihistamines: These relieve itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. Antihistamines can be used on their own or along with steroid nasal sprays. You can buy some antihistamines over the counter. Others are available by prescription. Certain antihistamines can make your child drowsy. Ask the healthcare provider which type is best for your child.

  • Steroid nasal sprays: These help reduce swelling and relieve itching and sneezing. They aren’t the same as the decongestant nasal sprays you buy in the store. Steroid nasal sprays are usually used every day to prevent symptoms.

  • Other medications: Healthcare providers sometimes prescribe other medications, such as leukotriene inhibitors, cromolyn sodium, or allergy eyedrops. If one of these is right for your child, your doctor will tell you more.

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Allergy shots contain tiny amounts of the substances your child is allergic to, such as pollen or dust mites. The shots may make your child less sensitive to these allergens. Allergy shots are given in your healthcare provider’s office. They won’t work unless your child receives them regularly, often for a period of years.

Irritants Make Allergies Worse

Irritants don’t cause nasal allergies, but they can make symptoms worse. Common irritants include:

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Perfume

  • Aerosol sprays

  • Smoke from wood stoves or fireplaces

  • Car exhaust 

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Frequent headaches

  • Greenish or yellowish drainage from the nose


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